Dressed to thrill: A brief look at clothing fetishes

Earlier this year, the Huffington Post reported a story that got me thinking about the relationship between clothing and sexual arousal. The news item reported that an ‘intimacy dress’ had been designed by Daan Roosegaarde that detects when the person wearing it is feeling aroused. It was reported that:

“The futuristic ‘Intimacy 2.0’ design is made of hi-tech fabric, leather and opaque e-foils and becomes transparent when it ‘detects’ a quickening heartbeat. The technical dress, dubbed ‘techno-poetry’ by the designer himself, operates with the help of wireless technology, LEDs and various electronics. Talking about his saucy design, Roosegaarde told the Daily Mail that ‘Intimacy 2.0 is a fashion project exploring the relation between intimacy and technology. Technology is used here not merely functional but also as a tool to create intimacy as well as privacy on a direct, personal level which in our contemporary tech society is becoming increasingly important’”.

Whether the dress serves any real practical purpose is debatable but clothes have long been a source (in and of themselves) as a source of sexual arousal and fetishization. In fact, the term ‘fetish fashion’ has now permeated into popular usage and related to any style or appearance in the form of a type of clothing and/or accessory that has been created to be deliberately extreme and/or provocative.

Clothing fetishes are sexual fetishes where individuals derive sexual arousal and pleasure from either (i) viewing or imagining very specific items of clothing, (ii) viewing or imagining a set of clothes (e.g., a particular uniform or fashion look), and/or (iii) individuals (themselves or others) wearing the clothing item or uniform. As with other fetishes, the item that the individual has fixated upon normally has to be present for sexual arousal to occur. The source of the arousal may also depend on the material from which the clothing items are made and/or the function of the clothing on the person wearing them (e.g., clothes that may restrict a person’s movement, or may accentuate a particular attribute of the body). Some clothing fetishists also collect particular clothing items.

In a previous blog on fetishism, I wrote at length about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli (University of Bologna, Italy) on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists because fetishists may be subscribed to many fetish forums (but was likely to be a lot more). Their analysis included a breakdown of sexual preferences for objects associated with the body including clothing. Excluding footwear – which is associated more specifically with podophilia (i.e., foot fetishism) – the results of the study showed that the most fetishized items of clothing were underwear (12%; 10,046 fetishists), whole body wear such as coats, uniforms (9%, 9434 fetishists), upper body wear such as jackets, waistcoats (9%, 9226 fetishists), and head and neckwear such as hats, ties (3%, 2357 fetishists). From this particular study, the authors concluded that the most common clothing fetishes are footwear, underwear (including swimwear), and uniforms.

Clothing fetishes are known to overlap with other sexual paraphilias including transvestite fetishism, sexual sadism and sexual masochism. Obviously it is the restrictive types of clothing that are most associated with sadomasochistic activity (and which are often made from PVC or latex). This includes very narrow skirts that impede movement (often referred to as hobble skirts that are often ankle length to make walking almost impossible), and very high heel shoes (which make it difficult to walk). Another popular item of restrictive clothing is a tight corset. Those individuals in sexually submissive roles are often forced to wear a bondage corsets (also known as a ‘discipline corset’) as a form of punishment. This is also associated the masochistic sexual practice of ‘tightlacing’ (also known as corset training and waist training) where submissive partners (typically female) are forced to wear a tightly-laced corset that result in extreme body modifications to the submissive partner’s figure and posture (e.g., ‘hourglass’ figures in which the woman looks as though they have an incredibly small waist).

Kevin Almond (University of Huddersfield) published a conference paper investigating how the body has been distorted through the cut and construction of fashionable clothing. He noted that fetishists cover their bodies in rubber cat suits or are restricted by corsetry, and that the clothing promotes levels of sexual desire and satisfaction. Valerie Steele also makes an interesting observation in her 1996 book Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power that”

“The corset, like the shoe, was one of the first items of clothing to be treated as a fetish, and it remains one of the most important fetish fashions. But it is crucial to distinguish between ordinary fashionable corsetry, as practiced by most nineteenth century women and the very different minority practice of fetishist tight lacing”.

Excluding footwear fetishes (which are very prevalent), there are many other particular types of clothing fetish. The most well known are arguable stocking and suspender fetishes, and uniform fetishes (for instance, a woman dressing up as a nurse or a man dressing up as fireman) which I will look at in future blogs. However, there are other less reported clothing fetishes including sock fetishes, denim jean fetishes, and coat/jacket fetishes. For instance, the Wikipedia entry on jacket fetishism makes the following observations (although none of them are referenced so there are issues around to what extent the information is reliable):

“Jacket fetishism in its pure form is most usually associated with padded nylon jackets though can be associated with leather jackets, particularly in association with bondage (BDSM). Jacket fetishists are generally (but not necessarily) male and gay in the 20 to 45 age range. The fetish often revolves around the feel and look of the nylon though can also relate to elements such as: padding thickness, nylon shiny through wear, orange lining (a well known element), dirty nylon (through normal wear or sexual use), and ripping the nylon. Part of the muddy/dirty fetish can also include getting jackets dirty and then ripping them up… Whilst jacket fetishism does not have the widespread popularity of other fetishes like bondage, it is a popular niche fetish and has numerous successful websites and discussion/picture groups dedicated to it”. 

A 1999 paper by Kathleen O’Donnell in Advances in Consumer Research examined the consumption of fetish fashion and the sexual empowerment of women in a qualitative interview study involving five women self-identifies as followers of fetish fashion. O’Donnell’s conclusions were interesting and perhaps surprising: Each of them spoke of the changes in posture that occurred as they slipped into their stilettos, their corsets or their latex dresses. By forcing them to stand tall, chest held high, the fetish gear instilled in them a sense of self-confidence that many indicated they had previously lacked. As they appeared more confident, self assured, and sexy, they also experienced increased attention from others, which further increased those feelings of self-confidence. Ultimately, fetish fashions gave these women the mechanism to tap into the power of their own sexuality and for that they seemed grateful”.

This is certainly area that would benefit from more empirical research

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Almond, K. (2009) ‘You Have to Suffer for Fashion’: An investigation into how the body has been distorted through the cut and construction of fashionable clothing. IFFTI Journal of Conference Proceedings (pp. 197-210).

Hazell, K. (2012). Dress ‘Becomes Transparent When Wearer Is Sexually Aroused’. Huffington Post, April 5. Located at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/04/05/intimacy-dress-transparent-aroused_n_1405917.html

Kunzle, D. (2006). Fashion & Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture. London: The History Press.

Kathleen A. O’Donnell (1999). Good girls gone bad: The consumption of fetish fashion and the sexual empowerment of women. In Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 184-189.

Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.

Steele, V, (1996), Fetish, Fashion, Sex and Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia (2012). Fetish fashion. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fetish_fashion

Wikipedia (2012). Jacket fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jacket_fetishism&oldid=115173167

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on September 7, 2012, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Yes it’s a fabric with all sorts of unwholesome associations. That’s the point!
    When I wear it I often get about 100x more female attention than normal and sometimes, that runs well into single figures.

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